Book Review: The Story of Drama: Tragedy, Comedy and Sacrifice from the Greeks to the Present  

by Gary Day

Bloomsbury Methuen Drama

So how did it all begin? It’s easy to forget, when you’re sitting in the National Theatre absorbed in, say, the current Christmas show, Peter Pan with all its technical smoothness, that drama as a genre is constantly changing and involving. It has a long history and key periods saw very specific ideas about how stories should be told.

Gary Day, former principal lecturer at De Montfort University, starts with the Greeks (of course) and works his way forward in ten chapters to a consideration of modern popular culture and how it influences, or will influence, drama. The book is also partly thematic with emphases on sacrifice, tragedy, comedy and ritual and the cross referencing between this and the chronological structure works pretty well.

Each chapter includes a short essay about a handful of representative plays. Thus, in the section on Victorian Drama we get detailed analyses of Douglas Jerrold’s Black Ey’d Susan (1829), Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance (1893) and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler (1890) in which he picks up and illustrates some of his general comments from earlier in the chapter. In the same way he discusses King Lear (1605), The Revenger’s Tragedy (1606), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595) and Every Man in his Humour (1598) in the Renaissance Drama chapter. It’s a bit odd that the plays don’t come in chronological order but it doesn’t affect the coherence of the narrative.

It’s a fairly academic book but that doesn’t prevent it from being accessible. Definitely one for any sixth former doing Drama or Theatre Studies and for anyone teaching drama to any age group.